Monday, October 11, 2010

See Your Kitchen Countertop Everywhere You Go?

Do you get tired of seeing the same material used for kitchen countertops everywhere you go?  Oh, it may be a different color or have a larger vein running through or even be the most unique of its type.  It's still the same material. 
Granite Quarry
Countertops used to be lengthy discussions with my clients when I am designing a kitchen.  Most often, their first choice is for what they have seen everywhere, granite.  I am sure this initial reaction is partly the result of a “social proof” characteristic that we humans have and why we follow trends such as this one.

Countertops are trendsetters.  Why, even the type of kitchen countertop used in a home is becomes a selling feature and part of its description  when selling a home.  Imagine, a countertop determining a house sale.  Does that strike you as odd?

After all, when you buy a house, is the countertop the indicator of how well, let’s say, the house is insulated, or what the R-value of the windows are, or how well it is built, for that matter. 

I don't know about you, but I want to know a bit more about a house that I'm going to invest in and live in for some time than what kind of countertop it has.

These days, as the green revolution begins to take hold, I see more hesitation in my clients when we begin discussing countertops.  This is a good thing. 

To me, it means they are becoming aware of the many choices out there and more aware of environmental damage some choices may or may not cause. 

Here are a few tips that might be helpful next time you’re looking for a countertop, or any surface covering for that matter.

Since granite is a trendsetter for many, let’s start there.

Granite and other natural stone is a quarried material.  That means mountains are taken apart to get the stone.  It is not renewable, and it is a finite resource.  A lot of energy is used to transport it unless you find some that is quarried locally. 

The mining of natural stone impacts the land and water quality.  These stones are durable but do require sealant against staining.

Terrazzo is an aggregate of glass, stone chips, mirror, etc.  Introduced by the Italians, it is a mix of leftovers, and makes beautiful surfaces, countertops and flooring alike.  There are various amounts of recycled content in terrazzo but it can take lots of energy to transport it, so look for locally manufactured products.  Terrazzo resists stains is durable and easy to clean.

Butcher block (wood) does not take much to process, but it’s important to look for FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) along with a Chain of Custody certification to make sure it has been managed correctly.  Wood, managed correctly, is a renewable resource.

Sometimes butcher block is pieces of wood laminated together.  Make sure there aren’t any added formaldehydes in the glue.  For sealers and cleaners, look for products that are benign or are low in VOCs.  Butcher block can be recycled.

Paper Composites are also a good choice.  There are many brands available.  This product is made from paper that is held together with a resin binder.  It has a high content of recycled paper, is easy to clean, very durable (after all, skate board ramps were intially made from the stuff) and, it is renewable. 

If you just have to have that granite, look for a salvaged piece and use it as a highlight or focal point in the room.

Want to find out more about how to green your home and lifestyle?  Sign up now for DIY Greenstyle Tips. 

Have questions or don’t know where to begin?  Contact Me at EcoLivingDesign.  Look forward to hearing from you!

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